Day 1045 [Aug. 13/11 JST] – Repair Progress Report

Today's Report
Aug. 13/11 1300 JST 

Position:  27°03'N, 142°11'E (Ogasawara, Chichijima Island, Japan)
Remaining to Yokohama:  502 nm (ETA: ?)

Repairing a disabled sailboat on the open ocean can be a near-impossibility. We are finding that repairing one on a tantalizingly close yet difficult-to-access Japanese island is doable, but it definitely takes time!

There are four critical repairs that must be done before NBSDIII is able to depart for Yokohama, along a stretch of water Saito-san knows like the back of his hand yet ironically is among the most difficult he has yet faced.

The first repair is completed: the hand-sewing of the 1-meter tear in the mainsail. Saito-san did it himself with a $29 West Marine sewing kit we put onboard four years ago in Hawaii, and which has proved itself as invaluable multiple times during the circumnavigation, now in its 1045th day.

The main can now probably stand up for the rest of the trip. Its usable area was reduced to about half-size in Hawaii last summer as the sun- and wear-damaged parts were cut away and the seams restitched at a sail loft.

The next repair involves the aux. generator's alternator, the component that produces electrical current to keep the boat batteries charged and run key equipment. It was replaced on Thursday, sent by Mike Seymour on a twice-weekly ferry, and Saito-san reports that the batteries are now finally at full charge not seen since the day they died and he had to resort to constant hand-steering two weeks before reaching Chichijima. (As a side note, he's also gleeful over the boat's refrigerator being back in service, especially in August temperatures on a sun-baked tropical island.)

Those are our two repair successes thus far.

A replacement for the engine exhaust hose, a heavy-duty piece of heat-resistant tubing that has blown out twice in recent months, was sent along with the alternator. Unfortunately, there are TWO different sections of exhaust hose, each with different diameters, and the wrong one was sent. So we'll be scrambling this week to dispatch the right one.

And the fourth and final repair, expected to be the most difficult, is the replacement of the gearbox. This crucial bit of machinery contains the clutch and gears that control the shaft that turns the prop. This is what failed as Saito-san attempted to leave Chichijima on July 23. Later inspection found that even though the gearbox had sufficient lubricating oil, friction was hot enough to melt plastic filler caps and fittings and scorch paint. It was diagnosed from afar as having simply failed.

After a number of international and local calls by Mike, a replacement gearbox was found in Australia. Our thanks to Brett Millikin of Whiting Power, the original installer of NBSDIII's engine in Auckland, NZ, for his help in locating and sending the new gearbox. As of noon today it had already reached Tokyo. Once it passes customs here, it too will have to await the ferry. (If we're lucky, it goes out on Monday. If not, it will be another 4 days.)

All this may seem like a lot of effort to send a wind-propelled vessel back on its way, except for the simple fact that in August there is little to no wind. More crucially is that these final miles are along one of the world's busiest shipping channels, and NBSDIII must have all radar, auto-steering, engine, radio, and other equipment in safe and reliable working order as Saito-san wends through heavy ship traffic. A windless, engineless sailboat "dead in the water" is likely to be just that.

We recall the awful disappointment of another sailor who was triumphantly finishing her own single-handed circumnavigation when her boat's auto-steering system failed and put the hapless skipper onto a beach in Mexico just one night before her final port in California. Her vessel was destroyed. That amazingly resilient sailor, Jeanne Socrates, later restarted and completed what became her third ultimately successful effort as the oldest woman to complete a solo circumnavigation, at age 68.
So please forgive any apparent over-protectiveness with our own efforts. We just want to make sure Saito-san makes it the rest of the way intact, safe, and under NBSDIII's own power, sail or otherwise!